The Befriending Benefit

Sam Ogden, MD

Connectedness (the awareness that people care about them, their well-being, and success) has long-lasting benefits for kids of all ages.

By Dr. Sam Ogden, Alice Peck Day Memorial Hospital

Pediatricians are given the gift of a snapshot of our community’s health, painted through the eyes of our patients and their challenges. Over the last several years of practice, I’ve noticed a unifying challenge among my patients. It’s one that goes by many names, but might be summarized as “connectedness.”

Underlying so much of the burden on our patients is an unrealized need to feel together, to belong, to have (or be pursuing) a sense of what we’re really about. A person’s mood and behavior, focus and attention, relationships and family dynamics — three common issues presenting to a medical office for help — all rely heavily on true connectedness.

During the challenges of the last few years, I have started think about the many things we are supposed to remain strongly connected to in order to be well, best function, and find our real meaning. To promote those connections for myself, I have started to build in small pauses throughout each day to ask the following questions:

  • Am I connected to the moment I’m in, or am I somewhere else?
  • Am I tuned in to my body (what it needs and what it’s telling me) or is it merely a neglected housing for an overstimulated brain?
  • Am I befriending meaningful knowledge and truly learning each day? Or am I overexposed to excessive information, random second-hand experiences, and superficial exchanges?
  • Am I connected to the physical world and the nature outside my doorstep? Or is my bluest possible sky always a ceiling and my freshest air coming from a purifier/filter in my building?
  • Have I built and prioritized my daily routine with the needs of myself and others in mind? Or am I spending my time suffering through another person’s vision of my day, having given too much over to the demands of others?
  • Am I truly connected to my reactions and their origins, or do I never take the time to really look at them (with or without another’s help)?
  • Am I connecting to those around me, or at least seeking those I want to connect to? Or do I waste my little time interacting with too many virtual communities, some not even worthy of the word “community”?

In the pediatrics office, it has become increasingly necessary to ask some of these questions of patients, especially during visits for depression, anxiety, ADHD concerns, poor school performance, and self-harm. Many questions are better suited to being explored in other environments — counselor’s offices, homes, schools, religious/spiritual practices, or discussions among true friends in safe spaces — but they need to be asked somewhere. If unanswered or completely unengaged, illness (at worst) and overall un-wellness (at best) is sure to follow.

We must strive together for a strong, steady, perhaps even ancient kind of connection to self, other, family, community, and world. I don’t claim to know how best to do all that striving, but I know that I can’t do it alone, even for myself. Connection takes work, intention, and time; and befriending takes bravery, but it is well worth it. The more of us that start asking the above questions of ourselves and befriending the answers and solutions, the more connectedness will come back into our lives — and the health benefits will follow.

Sam Ogden, MD, is a pediatrician in the Multi-Specialty Clinic at Alice Peck Day Memorial Hospital.